Hillsdale College continues to welcome the same amount of new students each fall, despite the national downward trend in college enrollment.
According to Forbes, in the fall of 2019, the total amount of new students that attended a form of postsecondary education decreased by 1.3%, or 231,000 students, as compared to the previous year. Last fall’s enrollments nationwide dipped below 18 million, which is a decline of more than 2 million students since college enrollment peaked in 2011.
So far, Hillsdale College has not suffered any declines in enrollment. Hillsdale’s ability to maintain its average class numbers is largely a result of the college’s values, curriculum, affordability, and post-graduation employment rates.
Although last year the admissions staff saw a small dip in applications for the first time in five years, Senior Director of Admissions Zachary Miller said this has not affected the number of students that commit to and attend Hillsdale. In fact, Miller added, Hillsdale College has “record yield rates” for the enrollment of accepted students.
“Hillsdale’s current yield rate is at 44%. If you have a yield rate in the 30% zone, you are really good,” Miller said.
Miller said part of the national decline is due to a decreasing population. Many expect this decline to reach a low point in 2026, which will be 18 years after the financial crisis of 2008, during which there was a significant decrease in children born.
“This is something that is scaring many colleges,” Miller said. “In the next few years, many small private schools will have to shut their doors.”
Miller attributed Hillsdale’s continually high enrollment levels to the commitment to its values.
“If the whole pie is shrinking, every college is trying to appeal to everyone,” Miller said. “But Hillsdale is doubling down on its mission. People are drawn to Hillsdale and the values that it has held for 175 years.”
Associate Professor of History Kenneth Calvert echoed these sentiments, saying Hillsdale’s mission attracts students committed to pursuing knowledge.
“In public schools and universities they often talk about critical thinking, but what they think is critical thinking is questioning the status quo,” Calvert said. “We want to create people who know how to think well. We want to teach them to understand some depth of science, math, literature, and languages, and not just to follow one political philosophy.”
For comparison, Ellen Condict, who teaches literature at the Hillsdale Academy as well as education and English courses at Hillsdale College, said when previously teaching at Baylor University in Texas, she found students were quickly bored by the literature curriculums based entirely on contemporary works.
“One of the big differences between the core programs is Hillsdale’s focus on primary texts and great books, which has a lot of appeal with students,” Condict said. “Students tend to think they want to read the contemporary works, but they wind up getting bored of it pretty quickly.”
Both Condict and Calvert, as well as Hillsdale Academy College Counselor Deanna Ducher, acknowledged that the national resurgence in classical education has boosted the attractiveness of schools like Hillsdale. But Hillsdale’s low tuition rates, Ducher added, make Hillsdale stand out among the crowd of private liberal arts schools.
“In general, finance is always a big question,” Ducher said. “Hillsdale is attractive because it’s done such a good job with keeping costs down and providing a lot of financial aid options. Plus the fantastic education.”
Not only is Hillsdale College more affordable than other small liberal arts schools, Ducher said, it is also often more affordable than state schools like Michigan State or the University of Michigan.
The affordability, combined with unusually high post-graduation employment and graduate school rates, makes Hillsdale College still valuable in an age where an increasing amount of people are rethinking college.
Because many colleges are expensive, Condict said, parents and students are “being wise consumers” by not always choosing to enroll in college.
“People are rethinking college because now it’s no longer a guarantee that a college education will get you a higher salary or a better position in society,” Condict said. “I find that encouraging. Not everyone needs to go to college, not everyone enjoys it, even at Hillsdale College.”